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WhiskyFest New York 2011

by Oliver Klimek on November 12, 2011

1st November saw the annual WhiskyFest New York being held at the Marriott Marquis Hotel on Times Square. WhiskyFest is a series of three Whisky shows in New York, Chicago and San Francisco organized by John Hansell, the editor of Whisky Advocate Magazaine, formerly known as Malt Advocate.

I had wanted to attend this even for some years, but this year I decided to actually do so. Venues can’t get much more exclusive than the Marriott Marquis where WhiskyFest was occupying the huge ballroom as well as a few other rooms for masterclasses. I had bought an ‘early bird’ VIP ticket for $170 allowing me to access the event one hour earlier than with a regular ticket. During the VIP hour some special drams were on pour that are not available afterwards.

Upon arrival I had to learn that bags had to be checked in at the cloak room. No problem per se, but pricing was entirely congruent with the exclusivity of the venue: $7 for a coat and a bag. Ouch!

More than 90 booths were offering their wares, from Scotch to American whiskies but also a few other spirits. The range was rather broad, especially the good presence of American distillieries from craft to industry attracted my attention. On the Scotch side basically all important whisky producers were present, but independent bottlers were a rare sight.

The overall atmosphere of this perfectly organized event was very impressive indeed, the buffet food supplied by the hotel was outstanding with immaculate service and constant refilling. Water supply and possibilities for sitting down were plentiful. But the amount of people already present during VIP hour sent a little shiver down my spine in anticipation of the regular ticket holders. And I was right, afterwards the ballroom was full, even crowded at times to an extent that it was difficult to get a dram at certain booths.

With an entrance fee in the triple digits there is of course always the question if you get your money’s worth at the event. I have to say it depends on how you tackle it. The sheer number of good to high quality drams on offer guarantees that you will be able to enjoy a lot of good whisky. Compared to bar prices it is a no-brainer, but broken down to bottle prices things look different, especially after the VIP hour. But of course the food and the possiblilty to meet other whisky people can’t easily be expressed in monetary terms.

It should be noted that WhiskyFest is not a geek event. Seasoned whisky lovers will already have tasted quite a few of the available drams as the brands and distilleries are pouring more or less their core product range, so you should carefully read the list of drams on offer before deciding to buy a ticket. To be honest, I would not have attended for the Scotch, but I was intrigued by the possibility to taste many American whiskies that are hard to find and/or rather expensive in Europe.

I decided not to take notes of what I tried but just to immerse into this event and to enjoy myself and the company of a few people I met there, so I won’t give you a list or even a Dram Of The Show. I enjoyed this evening very much, but overally the entrance price is at the far end of what I am prepared to pay for such an event.

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